The Best Of Luck Club (Nicky Boy Records/Caroline)
This second album from one of the most exciting talents of recent years offers rewards and upgrades for long-time listeners, and a solidly argued entry point for first time callers.
Compared with her debut, I Love You Like A Brother, it has a fuller sound, with heavier guitars and a sense of beefiness overall, but also quieter soft moments, and some surprising touches - including Springsteen-esque saxophone (it’s back baby) in Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself.
At the same time there’s a sense that she’s been emboldened by the success of the outright pop last time around and can cast pearls, such as the shiny Isabella, at us casually, her knack for hooks undiminished.
That’s the upside for her, but whether it is a growing career or a developing love, as lines such as “but when it finally came to me/I’d never felt less bulletproof” and “Don’t say that I have nothing to prove/I stay in every cheap hotel room”, from Am I Doing It Right?, and “Let’s sleep with the door open/Cause we know there’s no one else who’s coming through”, from I Want To Live With You, there are more complex emotional responses this time around.
And finally, the connections to the ‘90s alterna-ground which were clear, if narrow, last time around have broadened to encompass a sound which would sit as comfortably on your hits of the ‘80s/’90s/now rock station as on triple j.
The album may open with the little hip swing of I Don’t Get Invited To Parties Anymore, which feels once more like Belly playing at The Bronze on a night the Hellmouth took a break (and is the first sign that Lahey’s success has its personal downsides), but it’s almost a feint.
So, while, Interior Demeanour works a post-Seattle blend of quiet/loud/sad/angry, and Misery Guts throws itself into a full Courtney-fronts-Nirvana tumbling run – and I mean both Courtneys you might be thinking of - I Need To Move On feels like the English answer to all that (think Manic Street Preachers) and Am I Doing It Right? puts a flash old synth behind the power chords and takes its carefully stepping verses into a triple-decked chorus that is destined to be a fists-in-the-air moment at every show.
There’s no reason to think that the vulnerable but still steady Unspoken History, which begins as a close quarters piano ballad and opens up to a shimmering aura of distant voices and echoey electronic sounds, wouldn’t be out of place on a good Missy Higgins record. Or that Black RMs, which is mid-tempo, wry and hooky, would not have greatly improved any album by the otherwise ordinary Eskimo Joe.
And really, I Want To Live With You already feels like a song we’ve been singing since we locked arms and tipped heads back at the end of the school disco.
This is in every way a more mature record, from writing and scope down to her singing, which is firmer and, as patronising as it sounds to so describe it, more adult. A definite upswing.
The roundabout? Perhaps not surprisingly, maturity has clipped some of the more exuberant looseness which characterised the nonetheless well written songs on her first album. Energy is here but it is harnessed rather than unleashed. Pleasure is here but it is more responsible.
There’s nothing wrong with that of course, and there’s a good argument for it being necessary. But I do miss the less tightly controlled pop fun.
(A version of this review was originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald)